Thursday, June 26, 2014

And The Streets Ran Red... (Flash Fiction Challenge: 06-20-2014)


“Look, just listen, you pretentious little twit. It’s like I’ve been trying to tell you: you can’t say ‘the streets ran red with blood’. I’ve done the math, and given a standard size city street, you would need to continuously slaughter at least one hundred and fifteen people every ten seconds just to meet the necessary fluid dynamics requirements!”

The bard jumped as the woman’s fist came down on the table, smashing it to splinters.

“I realize that, my dear woman. You seem quite learned on the subject. But…” the bard stammered.

“But nothing! If you are going to engage in metaphor, then by the gods, do it correctly. Lose the hyperbole!”

She slammed her fist into another table, again sending pieces of wooden shrapnel flying in every direction.

The bard, having had enough, turned and fled without bothering to stop and collect his payment from the grizzled barkeep. The barkeep, known locally as simply Barkeep, apparently failed to even notice, engrossed as he was in rearranging the dirt on one of his few remaining uncracked mugs.

“Thrice-damned fool” grumbled the hulking woman, as she picked a new table.. At this time of day, in a tavern like this, generally only the most hardened of drinkers were present. Today, the tavern was empty, save the woman and Barkeep.

As she sat, the chair splintered beneath her, and she let out a sigh of frustration. For a moment, it appeared that she might start on a rampage, but she instead began to breathe deeply. Soon enough, she seemed to calm down.

Barkeep still seemed completely disinterested, until the woman pulled out a large purse that clanked with the pleasing sound of a great deal of coinage.

“Here, “ said the woman, tossing a silver coin on the bar with uncanny accuracy. It spun to a stop directly in front of Barkeep.

“That should be sufficient reparations for the loss of your furniture, though I use the term loosely.”

Barkeep grunted, and the coin quickly disappeared into whatever dank hole he kept his funds in.

“Have you, perchance, any decent wine?” she asked, flashing more silver.

Barkeep set aside his dirt relocation project and brought a pitcher of what could only, in the most generous of circumstances, be called wine. The reddish liquid, along with several unidentifiable chunks, sloshed into a glass, which Barkeep then passed to the her with a smile.

“Right...I suppose that will do.” said the woman with a dubious look. She raised the glass to her lips, but apparently thought better of it when the smell made it’s way to her nose.

She sat for a moment, lost in thought, the wine forgotten.

Feeling uncomfortable with the silence, Barkeep finally spoke.

“Anything I can help ya with, miss? We don’t often get your type in here….” he began.

“My type?” she asked, menacingly.

“Heroes, miss.” Barkeep said, motioning to the scabbarded sword resting next to her.

“Oh, “ the woman responded, sheepishly. “Yes. Heroes. No, I suppose you don’t tend to see many of us here. But, here I am. Jenna Angelblade, Hero First Class, at your service, “ she said, standing and bowing to the man.

Barkeep nodded, and bowed deeply in return.

“So what can I help you with, miss?”

“I’m here on business, looking for someone who supposedly spends time in this part of town, “ said Jenna.

“If I might ask, miss, who?”

“Throg the...what was it...the Merciless? The Malevolent?” she ventured.

“Which one, miss? We’ve got those two, a Throg the Malicious, and a Throg the Malfeasant, though he hasn’t been seen in weeks.”

“I suppose I’ll just have to go through them all, “ sighed Jenna. “Any clue where any of them are?”

“Well, that’s the sort of thing what’ll get a man in a bit of trouble around these parts, miss. Maybe even dead, miss.”

“Of course it is, “ Jenna said, reaching for her purse again. This time she withdrew a small gold coin from the purse. The coin easily covered a week’s worth of business for a tavern like this.

“Well, when you put it that way, miss…” said Barkeep, his eyes lighting up. He snatched for the coin, but before he could even blink, the coin had disappeared.

“Information first, “ she said. “And I will need a receipt.”

“A what, miss?”

“Receipt? You know, piece of paper that verifies that I paid you. For tax purposes?”

Jenna sighed again, the look on Barkeep’s face making his confusion apparent.

“Sorry, force of habit. From my old life, before this whole damned Hero thing.” she said, sighing.

“Miss?”

“I used to work for the Royal Tax Collectors, if you can believe it. I helped keep the books. It was so wonderful, keeping track of all those numbers, everything nice, neat, and tidy. “ She sighed wistfully.

“But that all fell apart one day, when I was walking past the Alchemist’s Academy. There was an explosion, knocked me clean out. When I woke up, several days later, I’d been changed somehow. I was suddenly quite strong, as well as quite fast.

“Of course there’s no call for a super strong, super fast accountant. I can’t say I blame them either. Took me three weeks just to figure out how to hold a pencil without crushing it into tiny little splinters. Can’t be a very good bookkeeper if you can’t write in the books.”

Barkeep nodded politely, waiting silently for Jenna to continue.

“So, the only place I could think of for someone with my new talents was the Hero’s Guild. I joined up and been there ever since, “ she said, a morose look crossing her face.

“You know, I thought being a Hero would be a great life. Excitement, adventure, the chance to really help people. Boy is that ever wrong.”

“Can’t see how, miss. Good pay, lots of respect, “ said Barkeep.

“Respect? Ha! People don’t respect Heroes. Sure, they want you to think they do, but nobody really does.

“You rush in, kill a whole cult of evil death god worshipers, save some dingbat virgin from being eviscerated, return her to her parents safe and sound. Can you even get a ‘thank you’? No, they just try to dodge the bill by claiming you agreed to have her back in two days, but it took three.

“Then, of course, gods help you, the idiot runs off three weeks later, gets strapped to another altar, and they expect you to just drop everything and go save her again!”

Jenna rose from the chair and began pacing.

“And if it’s not saving some virgin, it’s some idiot who borrowed money from the wrong person and just doesn’t want to pay it back. So you make a bad business decision, and I’m just supposed to haul your ass out of the fire?

“I mean really, people. Is this the best use of my abilities? Fixing problems you caused?”

Barkeep slowly slid behind the bar, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible.

“And don’t get me started on the rampant misogyny!“

Jenna noticed the confused look on Barkeep’s face, as he asked  “Is that a disease, miss? If you’re contagious…”

“What? No!” roared Jenna, causing Barkeep to jump a bit. “You know, misogyny: men thinking they’re better than women because they’re men. Those bastards that think that being a Hero is just for men. Sure, I can lift a horse over my head with one arm, but since I’m a woman, I must not be cut out to be a Hero.

“Why not two weeks ago this idiot hired Ivor The Bold over me, just because he didn’t think a woman could handle killing a few giant rats that invaded his farm!”

“Disgusting, miss.” agreed Barkeep. Jenna failed to notice his hand slipping below the bar, as she was well into her rant.

“I never wanted to be a Hero, you know. I was happy doing books. Good hours, decent pay, and work I liked! Now it’s all go kill this, go stop that. Bloody - “

Jenna stopped, mid-sentence, as her words were drowned out by a fountain of blood that ran down her chin. The crossbow bolt was sticking out of her throat, though she had no idea how it had come to be there.

Barkeep placed the crossbow on the bar, and stalked towards Jenna.

“Fucking Heroes. You want respect, but you couldn’t even be bothered to remember my damn name. It’s Thrym! Thrym The Malevolent, not Throg, you bitch.”

He spit, then pushed Jenna’s dying body out into the alley behind the tavern. As he took a moment to rest, he noted that the blood from her wound was trickling away like a small river.

Thrym said, to nobody in particular,  “Guess your math was wrong.”





Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Flash Fiction Challange: Starship Unlucky

"And over here to your left, you'll see a scale replica of the first ship to use the Fortuna Drive, the Lucky Strike."

The children gathered around the pedestal, and Marrisa could see the occasional head pop up over the crowd. It reminded her of the archive footage videos from the Old Earth History section of the museum, where small, rodent-like creatures poked their heads above their burrows to scout for danger.

"The Galactic Military's Research and Development branch first came up with the idea in 3177, and built this ship as a prototype. They - "

A small voice interrupted. "My da works for D and R. No, R and Q. Wait, no. Q and D!"

"Excellent!" Marissa said. "Continuing on. The scientists in R and D, " she said with extra emphasis on the acronym, "were looking for a new way to make our ships go much faster. A few of the really, really smart ones came up with an idea that would change space travel for ever."

Marissa had been warned ahead of time that this class was non-augmented children. Without augments, they were still too young to have covered the science necessary to understand the Fortuna Drive.This meant she could gloss over most of the technical details and save herself a bit of time, which she appreciated.

"It took the scientists almost twenty solar years to build the Lucky Strike. Isn't that a long, long time?"

She noted a few heads nodding in the group, though a majority of the children seemed to her to be distracted by the various shiny objects in the display area.

"Since the Fortuna Drive is basically powered by luck, the scientists needed to find a very lucky person to make sure the drive worked right. Does anyone here know who that lucky person was?”

Her question was met with silence, as she suspected it would be.

She flipped a small switch on the display, and a hologram appeared floating over the display. The portrait was of a strikingly handsome man, with short cropped hair that seemed to be perfectly sculpted to fit his head. A short, well trimmed beard adorned a smooth skinned face, with well chiseled features that most people had to pay for these days.

"Right!" she continued, ignoring the silence. "It was Captain ‘Lucky’ Heppin.

"Heppin had joined the Military at a young age and was the first person to ever be promoted within two weeks of enlisting. Isn’t that fast?” she asked in her most cloying voice.

Marrissa had recently gotten a copy of the unofficial report on Heppin, a favor from a friend. Thanks to that report, she knew that he had been promoted to Captain due to a clerical error in his favor, not due to any merit of his own. By the time the mistake had been caught, it would have reflected badly on the Military, so he was allowed to keep his rank.

“Heppin fought bravely for the Military, winning battles on Cirius VII, Fara IX, and many other places. He took big risks, but luck seemed to be on his side, as they always payed off.

“According to the official transcripts, the scientists tracked him down on the field of battle during the Conquest of Mylar XI. Captain Heppin was so inspired that he immediately ordered an all out attack, finishing the battle in record time so he could depart for this very important mission.”

According to the unofficial report, however, Heppin was found in a gambling den, having deserted his troops. He was already up almost twenty thousand credits, which he doubled again before they dragged him out the door. If they hadn’t finally hauled him off, he probably would have been court martialed.

“Soon, everything was in place and the Lucky Strike was ready for its maiden flight. Captain Heppin and his fourteen person crew soon took off for a test flight from Alapus III to Alapus IX.

“Media from all over the galaxies were there for the historic launch. People were awestruck by the beautiful, sleek, shiny ship and it’s new, faster and more powerful Fortuna Drive.

“The Lucky Strike left dock, and sped off toward Alapus IX. With such a short flight, they were expected to return within about an hour. People waited, and waited, for hours on end. Yet the ship never returned.

“To this day, nobody knows what happened to the Lucky Strike, and it’s brave crew. Maybe one day one of you will grow up to find out!”

Marissa stifled a laugh. Sure, like one of these kids would ever figure that out. Besides, the Military already knew what had happened.

Heppin had been talking to Heldig, the engineer, congratulating him on a job well done. When he was leaving, Heppin bumped into Heldig, who fell into the Fortuna Drive. Heldig hit the Drive in just the wrong place and dislodged the main core, which happened to land on a structural weak point. The core was breached, and ended up exploding with enough force to vaporize the ship and everyone on it.

Without that little bit of bad luck, the drive might have gone into production with a tiny, but fatal, flaw that could have costs thousands of lives. The flaw was found, and quickly fixed, leading to the safe and widespread use of the Fortuna Drive all across the galaxy.

Since reading that report, Marissa had found herself wondering if it was bad luck that caused the explosion, or good luck that exposed the problem…

But that was a question for another day. For now, a herd of non-augmented children needed her guidance, and by their slack jawed stares, she figured it was time to move on before they got too restless.

Marissa turned and lead the children to the next exhibit. “Now if you’ll follow me, off to your right you’ll see..”

Friday, May 16, 2014

Things People Should Tell You, But Never Do: Part 1

I found it puzzling, at first.

The room was so warm and inviting, with bright colors everywhere. It lacked that clinical, sterile smell that most hospital rooms have. Even the medical equipment, normally a source of anxiety for me, seemed less ominous than usual. The occasional beep or chirp from the machines seemed to provide a calming rhythm, rather than their normal unwelcome intrusion.

Still, for all the effort spent making this room into such a serene, comfortable place, why was the floor tiled, with an enormous drain in the center?

The construction seemed so out of place; harsh tile, the endlessly repeating pattern only interrupted by the enormous metallic drain, perfectly centered in the room. It seemed so strange, and yet I couldn't help feeling like there was a secret, terrible purpose to it.

Soon enough, all thoughts of this particular oddity were gone. The process of childbirth began, which left no time or energy for this particular mystery. In what seemed to be both a moment and an epoch at the same time, I found myself holding a screaming, writhing little space alien in my hands. 

It was at that moment, full of joy and wonder, that I found out exactly why that drain is there. And believe me, it is necessary.

Case in point: in the midst of my reverie, I heard a terrifying sound. It was something close to a bowling ball being dropped into a toilet. Unsure of what I'd just heard, I turned to witness a scene of pure horror, dredged up from the most primal of places. 

The onset of sheer terror was instant. What appeared to be blood covered every surface from the foot of your mother's bed to the opposite wall. It was as if her insides had exploded somehow. Aliens? Gremlins? An inter-uterine bomb planted by one of our previous doctors as revenge for some unknown slight? Some rare genetic condition that causes a person to explode post-pregnancy?

While I stood there in shock, trying to figure out what might have caused this grisly scene, the drain made clear it's purpose there in the room. 

Of course by this point, I'd forgotten about the drain all together. I was much, much more worried about how my wife could survive that much blood loss.

Unsure of what to do, and jacked up on a burst of adrenaline, panic came over me. I began to rush to your mother's side, to see if there was something, anything, that I could do to help save her. Options sped through my mind, only to zip past and fly out of reach before I could find something, anything to hang onto.

As she turned to me, with a smile on her face, your mother let out a contented sigh and closed her eyes. I was convinced this was the last time I'd ever see those eyes open, and nearly burst into tears. 

Turning to the doctor and nursers, I was ready to beg for them to do something, anything to save her. I wanted to scream: Make it better! You're doctors, fix her! Now! 

At this point it had been about, oh, ten seconds give or take. I would like to think that a part of me had noticed that the doctors already had things well in hand, and were beginning to clean up the expected mess, but frankly, I was too busy having the most massive freak out of my life. 

Thankfully for everyone involved, the medical staff were particularly well trained. At least one of them must have been watching for my reaction, because they quickly took me aside. In a quiet, efficient, and practiced manner they somehow managed to calm me down.

I wish I could remember what was said, as that combination of words and the calm, professional tone, were perhaps the most wonderful speech ever uttered on the planet. At least at that moment in time, and as far as I was concerned. 

While it was likely some clinical explanation of events, I choose to believe that it was, in fact, some ancient spell or ritual passed down among midwives from the dawn of humanity. There was some certainly some form of magic at work there to bring me from a panic stricken mess to a zen-like enlightenment in just a few words. 

Regardless of the method, I was quickly made to understand that this was, in fact, a natural part of the process and nothing to worry about. To this day, I have yet to feel more relief than I did at that very moment in time.

Looking back on that situation, the whole thing could have easily been avoided. Perhaps I should have paid more attention in Health class. Or maybe it was in one of the five hundred and sixty eight You Must Read This ™ books about parenting that were recommended. I'm really not sure.

What I do know is this: of all the advice we received about having a child, not a single person mentioned those moments directly after the birth when a woman's body decides to recreate the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius with bodily fluids. And, to be honest, that would have been far more helpful to know than any of the other stories people bothered to tell us.

So consider yourself informed. Should you ever be present at a live birth, beware. Just because the baby has arrived, doesn't mean that everything is over. Expect a recreation of the prom scene in Carrie, and don't panic.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Beginning

There are two traits that I have that tend to drive your mother (and likely most everyone else) insane. Well, there are likely many more than two, but these sort of spring to the top of the list.

First, which you're no doubt already familiar with, is my complete and utter inability to say anything in less time than it takes to read War & Peace. I imagine this comes from a combination of having a law professor for a father, and an English professor for a mother. Despite the issues it may cause me at times, I cannot help but love them both very dearly for giving me the ability to endlessly chat about any given subject.

The other trait, which I believe stems from my time as a programmer rather than my parents, is a tendency to over-analyze situations. To me, perhaps more so than others, there's a certain amount of importance to taking the time to examine something from multiple angles and viewpoints before coming to an opinion on the matter. 

Now, a major issue for someone who possess these two traits in tandem is that life, generally, does not afford the opportunity to take the time necessary to work through something and compose an appropriate, if perhaps overly verbose, response.

And, to be honest, this also isn't always the best way to handle situations. Especially not when it comes to the good, or happy ones. Something is lost when we take time away from experiencing something wonderful to try and pick it apart and see what makes it tick, then spend an eternity rambling on about how great it was. Sometimes, it's best just to just keep your mouth shut and enjoy the things that life has given you.

So it is that I've started this journal, though perhaps collection of stories might be a better term. Rather than spend my precious time with you nattering on about this or that, I hope to instead enjoy our time together, see what you have to say and feel, and only after some time has past, put down the my thoughts, when I'm afforded the time to be as verbose as I'd like and give things some thought.

To be honest, however, I mostly just like telling stories. Real or imagined, stories are a great way to impart ideas, provide a bit of humor and fun, and memorialize events (fictional or otherwise) for later times. And with some luck, a story can evolve into something new as it's passed on. With each telling, we can add a bit of ourselves, providing a new outlook, insight, or some facet of ourselves to the tale, making it into something a little more grand, if perhaps not as truthful. 

Now, given all that, you may wonder why I've chosen to do this in a public manner over, for example, keeping a written journal in a word processor or a notebook. (Yes, notebooks are real. Yes, we used to use these fancy things calls "pens" and "pencils" to actually write words on a page with our hands. And we liked it.)

In part, this is because you are growing up in an age of social media. Notions of privacy are far different today than they were in my time, and this could be viewed as part of my acceptance of that change. Learning to share information is something fairly new to me, and to survive in today's society, it appears that you have to be willing to do this more than I've been willing to in the past.

This also gives me a method of sharing my writing, as well as my thoughts, in the hopes that criticism and critique from the community can help me refine and expand my abilities in this arena. That is, assuming that anyone ends up reading this in the first place. 

But mostly, it forces me into carefully picking and choosing the things I wish to discuss. This is not the appropriate forum for intimate details, personal information, or stories that embarrass people. Those are details for those involved to decide if they wish to share. Rather, this is a place for me to note the positive, fun, and humorous things in our lives, an exercise in positive thinking if you will.

And, I imagine, get a little sappy now and again.

With that, I'll leave to read what you will of this, with the hopes that somewhere in these pages you'll find a few fond memories.

Love,

Dad